The chart below visualizes the 25 most frequently used words across Jay Z’s first 12 solo albums. Hovering the pointer over each individual word reveals the number of times it was uttered throughout his entire body of music. Clicking on a particular word will show a line graph that reveals how often each word was used on an individual album.
I’ve taken a special interest in tracking the most frequently used words by Jay-Z over his rap career. Even though he has grown as a rapper and matured as a musician, placing a special emphasis on the words he uses highlights what particular words he relies on to craft his narratives.
The top five most commonly uttered words across Jay-Z’s twelve solo albums are “I’m,” “like,” “got,” “niggas,” and “shit.”
I especially track the regularity of like and I’m across his body of work. Those terms signal potential similes and metaphors deployed by the rapper. In addition to “I’m” and “like,” I’ve also become interested in words such as got, know, and ain’t. Beyond Jay-Z, rappers regularly depend on these words to narrate stories and create vivid images about their lives.
For Jay-Z, got sequences the action of a verse as they uses the word to describe specific actions of himself or other characters in different verses. On “Dead Presidents II,” he raps, “On the uptown high block he got his side sprayed up.” Unlike the word “have,” when Jay Z uses the word got, it implies a more direct type of action. In short, got influences the attitude of a line. The word got sequences the action of a verse and describes acts as a compact, yet powerful verb to describe possessions, movements, and feelings.
The word know also stands out since rappers use the word as a means of signifying when referencing presumed knowledge, asking rhetorical questions, and demonstrating an existing relationship or rapport. On “Song Cry,” Jay-Z raps, “Good dude, I know you love me like cooked food.” Rappers use the word know to refer to presumed awareness and familiarity with the given subject matter.
Also an informal word, ain’t serves as a vital connector in the verses of many rappers. Paradoxically, the word ain’t affirms the authenticity of rappers when they use it. Ain’t acts as a substitute for am not, is not, and are not in declarative sentences. In “Heart of the City,” Jay-Z raps, “Look, I'm on my grind, cousin, ain't got time for frontin.'” The word takes on the form of an action verb in the verses of rappers as they make definitive statement or to express a definitive attitude.
Jay-Z’s most frequently used words vary over the course of his career. A broad numerical assessment of his most frequently used words might indicate shifts in his storytelling abilities. Overall, this visualization helps to explain what particular words are crucial to understanding Jay-Z’s entire body of work.